INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Wendell won’t know whether he and his Patriots teammates will leave here with football’s ultimate prize until their Super Bowl 46 showdown with the New York Giants concludes late Sunday evening.
But the third-year offensive lineman is already assured of departing with at least one prize: A black bra, his reward from “The Insider” host Kevin Frazier and his co-host, R&B singer Ciara, for having a passing knowledge of Madonna lyrics.
In everyday context, an NFL offensively lineman being goaded into “vogueing” by a singer adorned in skyscraper heels, leather pants, and an undersized Tom Brady jersey could be considered one more sign that the apocalypse is near.
But on NFL Media Day, the league’s annual theater of the ridiculous in which more than 5,000 credentialed media members descend on obligated players and coaches, it was just one more silly vignette from an hour-long availability session dotted with them.
“I’ve always wanted one of those,” Wendell said, upon receiving his parting gift.
“You could wear it under your uniform,” Ciara suggested helpfully.
As Wendell turned to show his reward to some lingering linemates — sadly, the wait proved to be in vain for one to make the obvious booby prize joke — one of the day’s chief lessons proved just a few steps away: It helps to have big hair. And that applies whether you’re a relentlessly chipper entertainment reporter who would likely answer in the affirmative if asked whether a football field has bases, or an obscure Patriot going for a distinctive look.
Ross Ventrone, the Patriots’ special teamer who was cut and re-signed so many times this season that he may well have broken the waiver wire, was clearly reveling in the attention. “Ross Ventrone, aka Rusty Benson, Fox 59,” he said, nailing a promo on the first take and even slipping in an alias. That camera crew moved on, another arriving immediately to take his place. “How do I care for my hair?” said Ventrone, earnestly repeating a question about his lengthy mane. “Shampoo. Conditioner. I keep it healthy. Love the product. Need it.”
Tiquan Underwood, the Patriots’ easygoing young receiver, was scarcely noticed on the field this season, with three catches for 30 yards; he’s probably more remembered for a pass he dropped against the Eagles. But his breathtaking ’90s-style high top fade hair style has made him instantly recognizable to New England sports fans — the camera never misses him when he attends a Celtics game — and it made him a favorite of the television cameras on today’s stage.
“I just like to be different, to be my own person and have my own style,” said Underwood to a British television reporter who asked him seven consecutive questions about the motivation for his ‘do.
“Yeah, I’d say about 80 percent of the questions have been about my hair,” Underwood said later. “Maybe 90 percent. But that’s cool. This day is supposed to be fun, right?”
That seemed to be the universal attitude of the Patriots, who arrived on the Lucas Oil Stadium field, accompanied by the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” at 10 a.m. to fulfill their duties. For the first time, Media Day tickets were sold to fans, and while it’s tempting to suggest P.T. Barnum had nothing on the NFL (tickets were priced at $25 but were in such demand that there were a few stray scalpers generating some business outside the stadium), their frequent cheers suggested that they were pleased with their investment.
Fans were given radios that allowed them to listen to any of the dozen or so players on individual podiums. Rob Gronkowski, sans the walking boot on his injured left ankle, was his usual agreeable and goofy self, as popular with the crowd listening in as he was with the swarm of reporters. Only Tom Brady drew more attention, and he effortlessly charmed his way through his fifth Media Day, including a good-natured jab at a 20-something man all spandexed up as a super hero.
He introduced himself as Pick Boy. Your kids may know him from Nickelodeon, but Brady didn’t.
“Nice outfit,” Brady said. “Halloween?”
“I asked him if his regular season game face was different from his Super Bowl game face,” said Pick Boy, who didn’t seem at all disturbed that he was wearing what looked like a green spandex onesie and a cape. “You should write down that he made a face and even gave me some sound effects.”
The spotlight found just about everyone. One moment Aaron Lavarius, No. 60 in your program and probably a who’s-he? even to the most diehard Patriots fans, stood alone watching Bill Belichick answer questions from his podium. The next, the practice squad defensive end was being interviewed by Marisol Gonzalez, a Mexican television reporter wearing a red dress that may well have been illegal in Indiana.
It did not take much coercion on her part to get Lavarius to put on a sombrero for his interview, which consisted of him sputtering out a few words of Spanish before getting a hug.
It was arguably a more dignified turn than singing Madonna lyrics. And don’t tell Wendell, even Ciara’s fandom proved fickle. By the time the Giants players were took the field at noon, her Brady jersey had been replaced by a Victor Cruz gamer.
No word whether he too was told to wear game-day undergarments.